Unearthly Desires in an Unruly World: Cornelia Funke’s Living Shadows

Unearthly Desires in an Unruly World: Cornelia Funke’s Living Shadows

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In Living Shadows, the second book in Cornelia Funke’s wondrous Mirrorworld trilogy (currently being repackaged and reissued in the US as the Reckless trilogy), death haunts every page. We follow Jacob Reckless, our protagonist, as he attempts to rid himself of the moth devouring his heart. Given to him by the Red Fairy whom he carelessly betrayed, it begins to fill his body with excruciating pain. He must find an ancient crossbow belonging to an infamous witch slayer and a willing volunteer to shoot him in the heart. An equally ancient spell cast on it enables a third shot to resurrect its victim. Unfortunately, someone else intends to keep it for himself, and when Jacob encounters his dauntless rival, the world as he knows it threatens to crush his bones.

Funke bakes a layer cake of darkness and unconditional love with a haunting fairy tale icing that keeps you embedded in the story. You fall in love with the characters and feel their deepest emotions. In particular, Jacob’s simmering romance with his eternal companion, Fox (whose real name you learn once again in this volume) ensnares you. The moments where it comes close to a boiling point make you remember why fairy tale romance has captivated readers since the first storytellers entertained their audiences.

Theirs being the central romance in the story differentiates the series from so many others in the YA genre. Love triangles enchant their biggest fans and ensure the longevity of a series, but there comes a time when devoted YA readers roll their eyes. Focusing on one relationship betwen two compelling characters who fear each other’s deaths more than their own allows your imagination the freedom to savor their journey. When villains get in the way of their love, it’s just as fun of a ride, if not more.

Our villain introduces himself when he saves Jacob from certain doom. Unearthly beautiful and kind to boot, he dazzles Jacob with his princely demeanor. With a name like Guy de Troisclerq, what do you expect? When Fox becomes enamored with his effortless charm, it seems like a love triangle will become a centerpiece of the story. It seems as though they’ve fallen in love when the two of them ride off in a taxi, his flower pinned on her dress. It’s only when Jacob learns about the possessive meaning of the flower that we gasp and acquaint ourselves with the meaning of the word Bluebeard. One of the most abhorrent characters in all of European folklore, Bluebeards are known for locking women in their notorious red chambers after killing them when their fear has consumed them. At least, that’s Troisclerq’s schtick. Somehow, with this being the case, he remains likable. It takes an astonishing amount of skill to make someone as reprehensible as a Bluebeard worthy of our adoration. In the form of Troisclerq, Funke succeeds with an effort that appears invisible.

It’s a terrible shame that Funke describes the entire progression of Troisclerq’s deep and warm friendship in summary. I don’t care if its inclusion would have made the book several pages longer. On the contrary, I would give anything for Funke to revise Troisclerq’s passages and provide his character with the richness and development he needs.

Additional characters that featured prominently in the first volume lack the presence their personalities desire. For example, Jacob’s brother, Will, appears briefly at the beginning of the story. After Jacob returns to Mirrorworld from Earth, Will vanishes into the realm of memory. I would have liked to have seen more of him in the story, given the intensity of his bond with Will. The same goes for the Dark Fairy, the beautifully crafter villainess that haunted the first volume. Her presence is never lost on Jacob, for the spots that dot the wings of the moth on his heart represent the six letters of her name. Once each of them have darkened, he must die. Of course, nothing works out according to plan.

All the better for you, the reader. Despite its shortcomings in regards to underdeveloped characters, Living Shadows stands up to the challenge of bettering its predecessor. It’s definitely a book to cherish, and you’ll find yourself reaching for it in want of its enchanting yarn. However, I regret to inform you that its typesetting truly upset me. Crucial words are omitted in otherwise grammatically correct sentences. A character’s name is misspelt in one particular passage. Paragraphs are sometimes spaced badly. It may not detract from the mesmerizing effect of the story, but it’s sure to make you blink in befuddlement and wonder how it could have gone to press with such an unfortunate presentation.

Our previous coverage of the series includes:

The Grim Repercussions of Brotherly Love: Cornelia Funke’s The Petrified Flesh
Cornelia Funke Founds Her Own Publishing Company to Release Reckless: The Golden Yarn

Living Shadows was published by Pushkin Press in 2016. It is 410 pages and priced at £7.99 for the paperback edition. The cover art was illustrated and designed by Jing Zheng and Mathew Cullen, respectively.


Zeta Moore’s last article for us was The Fierce Love of Thieves: Thieves of Islar by James Shade. She is exploring work in care for individuals on the autism spectrum, and nerding out when she can.

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